Many Web experts frown upon screen-scraping technology because, in Internet time, screen-scraping is a slow, cumbersome process. But Anne Castro, chief design architect at Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina, doesn't buy into that argument.The service her company is providing on the Internet is not "a moment-in-time service," she says. "It's a file cabinet of all the business people have with us."

Customers of the Columbia, S.C.-based insurer no longer have to maintain their own records in a folder. They can visit the Web site and view their claims history for the past two years. "If it takes five or eight seconds for a customer to see the (explanation of benefits) we mailed to them six months ago, we don't need a sub-second response time for that," Castro says.

Using two screen-scraping products-IBM Corp.'s DirectTalk for the interactive voice response and Miami-based ClientSoft Inc.'s WebPak for the Internet and customer-service workstations-customer information is plucked from the same IBM 3270 mainframe screens-regardless of which channel a customer chooses for contacting the company.

That's because the CSR workstations, the Web site and the IVR system are all linked to a single back-office system. "We don't have our business logic replicated in more than the single place where the data is stored," Castro says.

Castro admits that having a single back-office system made screen-scraping technology a natural fit for her company. Integrated, multichannel customer service is a daunting task for most carriers because they need to integrate many disparate systems.

"I'm sympathetic," she says. "They're not going to have anything pushed out to the Internet very fast. There's a huge technology correction going on."

Property/casualty direct writer 21st Century Insurance Group has pushed customer-service applications out the Internet quickly as well-also by using screen-scraping technology.

21st Century, based in Woodland Hills, Calif., uses screen-scraping software from Atlanta-based Jacada Ltd. to roll out Web self-service applications without rewriting the mainframe applications. "We were looking for a quick-hitting way to make our presence known on the Internet and to give our customers another way of doing business with us," says Bruce Millar, senior project manager at 21st Century.

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